Words: Paul Chapman
Image: Ian Moorcroft
With funds of £5.3m secured there are exciting plans for the Chesterfield Canal - the last 9 miles get slightly shorter!
Chesterfield Canal Trust have recently received £5.3m of funding which comes as part of the Staveley town deal. I’m sitting with Rod Auton from the Canal Trust who’s quite excited to tell me about the developments that will result.
As we met the canal had a ‘hands off flow’ notice which was coming to an end. The notice prevents water being taken at St Helena’s flood gate (the start of the waterway) and has an impact on the use of the canal, basically preventing any use on the water. Rod was looking forward to getting the trip boats running again.
Rod explained how the funds will be used, "The £5.3m is fantastic news for the area. We will be restoring an extra half mile of canal up to the river Doe Lea. We will be building a new return lock with a 500m siphon pipe which will bring the water to the same level on both the east and west sides of the old Hartington railway bridge. We will also build two new bridges.
"The towpath to Renishaw will be upgraded to a multiuser trail and then we are hoping to take this through the Norbriggs Cutting, which is presently a right of way but needs work. These changes will significantly extend the cycle network.
"We can start work on designs for a new aqueduct to run the canal over the Doe Lea River which will be a wonderful draw for the crowds, running for 32m and sitting at a height of 10m above the ground."
Rod points out that plans have had to be reined in as rising costs mean the funds won’t go as far as originally thought.
"There is also £2.2m allocated for Staveley Waterside (aka Staveley Town Basin) secured by DCC.
"We recognise that some sections of the current towpath in Chesterfield are narrow and have right angle bends which cause issues with users. Walkers and cyclists will be the first to benefit," says Rod.
The trust will continue seeking out funds as things like the aqueduct will be expensive as there is no road access to the site and overhead power lines cross the site. “The first work people will see is drilling to add a new bridge across the Arkwright trail and work to move a vast pile of clay which has been gifted to the trust by Suon Ltd. It is currently at Foxlow to the north side of the basin, Rod was clearly very pleased with this gift… I must admit to not quite sharing the same excitement for what, to me, is a huge hill that needs to be moved!
The Chesterfield Canal is 46 miles in total to the river Trent and there is about 8.5 still to be done, Rod is confident this will all be restored, the group's target year was 2027, but as they never know where funding will come from this is getting a bit close.
"With extra funds, we could restore the section from Staveley basin to Spinkhill, but the issue is with maintenance once it’s operative. Who picks up the bill?" questions Rod. "Any new section needs to be subject to a managed agreement, the completion would produce a 7.5 mile stretch from Chesterfield to Renishaw but still wouldn’t connect to the basin at Chesterfield Waterside.
"We work with landowners, authorities and agencies, and the support from councillors and the community has been fabulous, but we need to continue the drive."
The trust was formed in 1997 arising from the Chesterfield Canal Society formed in 1976 and our volunteer Work Party has worked in Derbyshire every weekend since 1988 plus many weekdays and can show 34 years of effort. "It shows commitment and a long-term future but it’s still difficult to guarantee plans," says Rod. "Work is often slow, we have a moveable rubber dam that inflates with water which allows us to work on 30m sections to identify the leaks at Renishaw and put a liner in the correct place, slow tiresome work."
If you fancy a trip on the canal, their trip boats operate from Tapton Lock and Hollingwood Hub where you can enjoy an afternoon tea and of course Christmas will soon be here so look out for their Santa Cruises.
You could also just hop on your bike and take a trip out to Rother valley, the first section follows the towpath from just along Brimington Road.
I’d just like to say a personal thanks to Rod and the team at the trust. I don’t own a boat or paddle the waters but I’m often cycling along the towpaths as part of a loop around Chesterfield and simply wouldn’t be able to do this without their hard work.